Over 2.1 million workers are currently unemployed in California. That’s not counting the underemployed, the part-timers who would like to be working full-time, the temporary workers, and those who are so discouraged that they’ve given up on work. One-third of the unemployed have been jobless for over a year; 25% have been out of work for more than two years.
This Great Recession is leaving millions of workers behind. Workers in especially hard-hit sectors like construction are facing unemployment rates as high as 40-50%. Workers have lost their jobs, their homes, their marriages and their community roots in the wake of this recession. Women and men who spent decades in the construction industry may never return to the same work. We’ve got to re-invest in these workers — to train and arm them with new skills so they can embark upon new career paths.
California spends nearly $500 million in federal Workforce Investment Act (WIA) funds every year. 85% of these funds are distributed to the state’s 49 Local Workforce Investment Boards (LWIBs). LWIBs offer two types of services with these federal funds – (1) core and intensive services, like resume and interview preparation and job search and (2) training programs.
A May 2011 Senate Office of Research study documented that, on average, the 49 LWIBs spend just 20% of their federal funds on training services. A third of the boards reported spending less than 15% on job training. Sixteen LWIBs, including Imperial, Los Angeles City and County, Tulare, and Fresno among others, spent more on administrative and operating costs combined than on job training.
Our statewide workforce system has morphed into a low-wage labor market where workers leave as they came, with no new marketable skills to land them a better job and a career path to self-sufficiency. Low-wage employers pay low wages for different reasons – but a major one is because they believe the job is low-skilled. Academics agree that job training leads to higher wages, longer retention and better outcomes for workers and employers.
That’s why the California Labor Federation, the State Building and Construction Trades Council and the California Manufacturers and Technology Association, along with our community training partners, Jewish Vocational Services and Chicana Services Action Center, co-sponsored SB 734 (DeSaulnier), a bill to establish a minimum training requirement for LWIBs.
This bill requires LWIBs to invest at least 25% of their public funds on quality job training programs, and starting in 2016, this minimum standard would increase to 30%. Simply stated, over the next five years, one in three public WIA dollars will be dedicated to job training programs.
Sounds simple, right? Well, the California Workforce Association and its 40 local WIB members are beside themselves in opposing the bill. They are arguing about “local control,” claiming that they should be able to set their own rules. But for the past 13 years, “local control” has delivered 20% in training funds. And that is simply not good enough, especially during this recession.
It wasn’t good enough for other states, like Florida, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, who have all adopted policies similar to SB 734 and drive more public funds into quality job training. California is behind the curve in doing so. We must catch up. Quality job training is good for workers, good for employers and good for California. The Governor should sign this bill into law.